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#EFLproblems – Monitoring pair work

Two men talkingWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Stacey Hughes responds to Susanna’s blog comment about monitoring pair work.

Susanna wrote:

I wonder what the best way is to monitor pair work effectively. I use pair work because it helps students get used to speaking; however, I am aware that they may be making a lot of mistakes which I don’t have the opportunity to correct. Not all students are willing or able to correct their partner’s errors. Have you any advice on how to ‘listen in’ to six pairs of speakers?”

Susanna’s question is a common one: we put our students in pairs to discuss a topic, but we can’t monitor what they are saying, so we don’t know if they are making mistakes that we need to correct.

To answer the question, we first need to establish why we ask students to discuss something in pairs to begin with. At the heart of the matter is whether the purpose of the pair work activity is for speaking practice. The majority of the time, the purpose of discussion in pairs is for students to get more practice speaking in English, to build their fluency. In this case we need to ask ourselves: Do I need to correct every problem?

Since pair work discussion is primarily for fluency, not accuracy, the best thing to do is to let the students communicate with each other without the interference of the teacher. This can make some teachers (and students) uncomfortable. They may feel like they aren’t doing their ‘job’ properly if they aren’t correcting or seen to be correcting.

Here are some tips for pair work:

1.Outline the benefits of pair work

Make it clear to the students when they are meant to be practicing their accuracy and when they are meant to be working on fluency. Better yet, make the communication task so engaging that students will want to try to contribute something meaningful to the conversation.

2.Encourage clarification-seeking

Teach students some communication strategies such as asking for clarification (Sorry, did you mean….?; Can you explain….please?) and checking understanding (Do you see what I mean?). These phrases can be posted on the wall for students to refer to during communication activities.

3. Let them talk

Students need to learn to solve communication problems on their own – this is part of the learning speaking process. They also need to learn to do it on their own – to build their confidence in their speaking abilities.

4. Monitor but don’t interfere

One strategy many teachers use is eavesdropping – listen to the conversations and make a note of any important errors or vocabulary issues. Make a note of good use of language, too. At the end of the activity, write the mistakes on the board (without saying who said the sentence!) and get the students to correct. This will be much more memorable to the students than stopping them in mid thought will be, when their focus is on trying to get their message out. By doing it at the end, students can be more focused on correcting the mistake.  Be sure to point out any good language use so that students can also see what they did right!

5. Develop your eavesdropping technique

If you are standing near one pair, listen to another. Do this so that the pair you are nearest doesn’t get nervous and stop talking.

6. Answer student questions quickly, then move away

If a student has a question about how to say something, help him or her out, then move on so that the pair can continue their conversation.

7.Let them know that mistakes are OK

Teach students the importance of trying to say something even if it’s not completely accurate. Some students don’t want to say anything unless it is correct. This may mean they are accurate, but not able to say much at all. Help them understand the importance of getting their message across. Make sure the classroom is a ‘safe’ place to try out language and make mistakes.

8. Ask students to reflect on their own performance

After the activity, ask students to make a note of anything they wanted to say but couldn’t. At this point you can help them create the phrase they needed. Ask students if they noticed when they made a mistake and if they were able to self-correct at any time. This kind of reflection on performance can help students be more self-aware and independent.

Invitation to share your ideas

Do you have anything to add on the subject of monitoring pair work? We’d love to hear from you! You can respond directly to this blog by leaving a comment below.  You can also take part in our live Facebook chat on Thursday 6th March from 12:00 – 13:00 GMT.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.


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Solving your difficulties as an EFL teacher – An #EFLproblems update

Young stressed woman holding her head and yelling.The Professional Development team here at OUP is helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks right here on our blog.

Recently, we’ve posted the following blogs in response to teachers’ questions:

Each of these blogs was followed by a live Facebook chat with a member of the Professional Development team to discuss the topic further. Dozens of teachers have taken part in these chats to help them better understand how to deal with the issues we’ve addressed. Be sure to like our Facebook page to be reminded of upcoming live chats.

If you are facing a teaching challenge that you would like us to write about, please leave a comment on the EFLproblems blog post. You can also let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #EFLproblems or on our Facebook page.

We would also like to take this opportunity to point you towards some of the great resources we have available for teachers.

Social Media

You can follow OUP ELT on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and, of course, here on our blog. If you are new to any of these platforms, these instructions will help get you started.

If you use an RSS reader, subscribe to our blog to stay up to date with the English language teaching articles we post several times a week.

Professional Development Webinars

Did you know that OUP runs free webinars every week? If you’ve never attended a webinar, it’s definitely worth a try. All webinar attendees receive a certificate of attendance, a PDF of the slides, and a link to the webinar recording. Even if you can’t attend the webinar at the time it’s happening, signing up will give you access to the recorded webinar. If you miss any webinars, you can catch up with the webinar resources archive.

Oxford Teachers’ Club

With the Oxford Teachers’ Club, you can get free access to over 18,000 trusted EFL and ESL resources, lesson plans, worksheets, and activities, which you can download to support your English language teaching.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has submitted a question for us. Keep them coming, so we can continue learning and developing together.


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#EFLproblems – Phonetics and Pronunciation

Talking in someone's earWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. We’ve received some queries about phonetics and pronunciation, specifically how to make pronunciation apps part of the class.

Talk to your students

There are many apps and the first thing a teacher should do is ask their students if they’ve got a pronunciation app and how they use it. Being aware of students who have a pronunciation app will help the teacher integrate it into the class. Then, it is also important to talk to the students about how they use their app. This discussion will also generate some ideas. The discussion may also make some students curious about a pronunciation app and how they could use it.

So, let’s now explore how to integrate the use of the app into the classroom.

Let’s consider first the sounds chart.

Be a resource for students

As the teacher, you can help your students understand certain concepts. For example, voiced and unvoiced sounds. Having a brief discussion on this in class will help students use their app better. They will see that /p/ in “parrot” is unvoiced and that /b/ in “be” is voiced.

Activity:

Ask students to find 3 sounds on their app that they find difficult. Tell them to write the sample words and the sample sentences from the app. Then, tell them to find 5 other words they know for each sound.  Ask them to write a short sentence with each sound, as in the app.  Finally, ask them to record the words and sentences, and to play it back. How do they sound?

As the teacher you may want to confirm that the words a student has chosen do represent the sound they have difficulty with. You can also ask students to compare their pronunciation of the voiced/unvoiced pair.

Chart your Progress

If you can, provide students with a small sounds chart. They can probably find one on the internet. Ask them to indicate with a small arrow the 3 sounds they find difficult. Then, as they progress and feel comfortable with the sound, they should put a tick next to it, and add another sound to their list.

Work with others

Encourage students to share their experience with other students in the class. When students find they have difficulty with the same sound, they can help each other, comparing their list of words and sentences. Then, they could also record each others’ words and sentences, comparing their pronunciation with each other as well as the example in the app.

If pronunciation is important for your students, have a sounds chart in the classroom. This will reinforce their work with the app. It is important that they notice not only the sounds they have difficulty with, but also to be aware of the sounds they find easy.

Help them improve

Students may sometimes need you to check on their progress. Be available to help. Maybe once a week, at the end of a lesson, ask about their progress with the pronunciation apps. Ask if they need any help. They may ask you to record a sample sentence. You could offer sample words that may be more helpful than those they have chosen. And, of course, they may have made some mistakes you can correct. Remember, you can help your students get the most from the pronunciation app.

So, you as their teacher can be a resource as well as a helper. In the first case, you can add to their knowledge. In the second case, you can facilitate their progress.

Play the game

Students will usually play the games that come with pronunciation apps. Encourage them to chart their progress.

1. Encourage them to keep a list of the sounds they got wrong

The app will give them immediate feedback on this, so students can simply write the word/sound before moving on to the next one. They can do this in a notebook or simply indicating the difficult sounds on a sounds chart.

2. Encourage them to play a game regularly

Suggest they play a game at least twice a week; once after the English class, and another time on a day when they don’t have English. Ask them to chart their scores for each time. Is there any difference? Students may discover that their scores after English class are generally higher than the others. This may indicate that a student does better when English is fresh in their minds. They may want to listen to English outside of class on a more regular basis. They could listen to music, or watch a movie or TV show without subtitles.

Playing the games will give them information about their learning which they can use to improve their learning of English.

These activities will link their English lessons with their use of their pronunciation app. This alone will help students focus. It will organise their use of the app and make it a useful tool in improving their pronunciation. Making the app part of the lessons will also bring another dimension into their learning, their experience outside the classroom. Finally, helping your students to use the app adds to your role as their teacher, the role of facilitator and resource.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about using pronunciation apps, so please comment on this post.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog is usually followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.


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#EFLproblems – Getting students to speak

Man shouting in celebrationWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week’s blog is in response to an online tweet about getting students to speak.

There’s a change of plan in this week’s blog from Professional Development Services. This week, we are responding to Shreya’s challenge for getting students to speak by referring our readers to the blog, Teachers tell us about their classroom speaking challenges. This blog is based on a survey of over 500 teachers and students giving their top speaking challenges. Responses to the challenges will be shared on this blog from January to April, so be sure to look out for further articles about speaking challenges.

Also, be sure to read Gareth Davies’ blog, How do I stop students from using their mother tongue? for more on getting your students speaking in English.

Invitation to share your ideas

Have you got an EFL problem that you’d like for us to address? The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the Solving your difficulties as an EFL teacher – #EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Most blogs will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.

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#EFLproblems – Teaching the over 50s

Older man with Help Me signWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week’s blog is in response to Simone’s blog comment requesting extra hints for teaching the over 50s. Stacey Hughes from the Professional Development Team responds.

Hi, My name is Simone and I run a prime school for seniors, they complain a lot about understanding and using the language abroad. Do you have any extra hints for teaching people over 50 years old?”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or so the saying goes, though perhaps the adage, “you’re never too old to learn” is more accurate. While older learners may face some hurdles younger learners don’t, the lifetime of learning through experience that they bring to the class makes them, in some ways, better learners. They have learning skills they may not recognise – the ability to solve problems and think critically, for example. They may have a clear perception of their own strengths and weaknesses or they may have strategies from learning another language in the past.

Perhaps the biggest advantage adults have is their positive motivation: they have chosen to learn or they have an expectation of what they want to do with the language they are learning. This means that they want learning to be applicable to their lives. If, as a teacher, you can show this link, you will have very enthusiastic students!

Here are some tips for teaching older learners:

Make sure learning meets needs

Find out about your learners’ goals and expectations. What do they want English for? How fluent do they hope to be? What problems do they have when reading/ writing/ listening to and speaking English? A simple checklist and follow-up discussion can go a long way in clarifying what your students want and will show them that you are interested in making the lessons applicable to their needs.

Make lessons immediately applicable

Adult learners are unlikely to be learning for learning’s sake. They want to be able to use what they have learned in real situations, so they are unlikely to want to learn language that they don’t perceive as useful for them or that seems a waste of time.

Use activities where learners can use their strengths

Some research suggests that older learners may not be as fast at rote learning as younger learners, and they may not learn as quickly. However, they will be very good at the types of problem solving and critical thinking activities they employ in everyday life and work. Use role play and simulations to practice language and provide lots of opportunities for discussion in small groups. Older learners are also good at reflection, so after a discussion activity, ask them to say what they did well and how they think they can improve on their weaknesses.

Create a comfortable atmosphere

Older learners have a certain status, so putting them into a classroom situation where they feel belittled or where their life experience is unappreciated will hinder learning. Create a classroom where learners feel comfortable about making mistakes. Build confidence through praise and encouragement. Set achievable goals and help learners see when they have reached them. One useful strategy is to tell learners about your own embarrassing experiences when using a language abroad (we all have them!). This can help them see that everyone makes mistakes and that it is OK. It may also help to point out that most people are forgiving of language mistakes and appreciate the effort learners make when speaking their language.

Not too fast, but not too slow either

How demotivating it is to feel confident when listening in class, but find that in the ‘real world’ of films and native speakers, people just speak too quickly! By all means, build listening skills with materials in class, but teach students to listen to authentic texts, too. Help them feel confident in knowing that, even if they can’t understand every word, they can get the main ideas. Point out websites where students can listen to newscasts and podcasts, especially when they are relevant and topical. So, for example, ask students to familiarize themselves with today’s news in their L1, then ask them to listen to an international newscast giving the same news, but in English. Or point them to a podcast that gives information related to an individual student’s line of work or expertise. Encourage film buffs to watch films in English with the English subtitles on for extra support.

Capitalize on learners’ experiences and interests

Learners naturally want to talk about what they are interested in, and adults have a wealth of experience to bring to the classroom. Extend course materials when necessary so that you can bring in more vocabulary and structures students need in order to be able to talk about things they want to talk about.

Make lessons practical and authentic

If your learners need to be able to use English abroad, then teach the language they will need to use abroad. This is applicable at any level. For example, at a lower level, you might help students understand train and airline announcements, language for commercial transactions and directions, etc. Higher level students may wish to understand and be able to discuss news and current events when abroad, so build in lesson time for this. Supplement and extend course materials with relevant materials from the web. For example, supplement a unit on sports with sports news, blogs or gossip about sports figures, podcasts or news about the impact of sporting events in the local area – whatever is current and relevant and of interest to the students.

Make use of 24/7

Adult learners are generally willing to learn anywhere at any time, so provide plenty of materials for them to continue learning outside of class. Many course materials have online components, but students can also listen to English on their smartphones on the bus or to a CD/ MP3 player while driving. Those who love fiction can be given graded readers to read at home, or they can listen to downloaded audiobooks. Those who like writing can communicate by posting comments on blogs or by writing emails to another student in class.

Revise, revise, revise

Older learners may need more revision than younger ones, so build in plenty of revision. This doesn’t mean repeating lessons. Find new contexts and situations for your students to use the language they have learned. Don’t be afraid to repeat listening texts again for revision in the next lesson, especially at the lower levels.

Have fun

Adult learners are likely to be learning in their own time and may be attending classes partly for social reasons. It is obviously important to set learning goals, but you can still have fun reaching them.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about teaching the over 50s, so please comment on this post and take part in our live Facebook chat on Friday 24 January at 12pm GMT.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.